‘Trying things out’ at Gravetye Manor

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Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the garden at the hotel, Gravetye Manor, as part of a tour of garden journalists. Appropriate really because Gravetye is famous, in gardening terms, as the home of William Robinson, (1838-1935), who purchased it as a result of the money he earnt as a gardening writer.

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Hmmm, I’m obviously doing something wrong. Still, still… if you are interested in gardening, then you probably know William Robinson as the author of classics such as Wild Gardening and The English Flower Garden. Here he is at Gravetye, he spent the last decade of his life in a wheelchair but still took an active interest in the garden.  

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We were taken round by the current head gardener, Tom Coward, and it was fascinating to think about the challenges of maintaining a garden which needs to allow the hotel guests to feel that it is ‘their’ garden for the time they are staying, and will also look good at different times of the year.

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Not surprisingly there are intimate seating areas dotted around. Garden service, anyone?

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According to Tom, Robinson used the garden to ‘try things out’ that he would later write about. What was so good about the garden today is that it still feels dynamic. The plants in the Long Border, for example, all come from propagated stock, and although it looked good to me, Tom said he wanted it to be ‘bolder’, and spoke about the danger of getting lazy when you found a plant palette that worked. 

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One of the joys of the hotel is that it sits between two very different gardening styles. At the front there is the wild garden- a meadow that leads down to the river. In 1904 Robinson planted out more than 50,000 narcissus bulbs in the pasture, woods and orchards, and the tradition continues. Apparently – and I’d love to see this in action – Tom and his gardeners can now plant 1,000 bulbs in 90 minutes, and the wild garden changes according to the season. In the winter, there are sheep to keep the grass down, with an electric fence that sometimes ‘pings’ the hotel guests. Strangely I only spotted the couple in the photograph on the right as I was looking through my images for this post. 

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And I’m still wondering whether I’m right in these are old-fashioned stocks… Luckily we were all very well-behaved.

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Meanwhile at the back, we walked past the croquet lawn…     …. and up the newly built steps…

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…to the highlight for me, the vegetable garden which provides most of the vegetables and cut flowers for the hotel. I’m going to keep quiet now and just let you enjoy…

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And now I’m going to leave you with a photograph as a writing prompt… a magical pumpkin. I’m sure that’s been used as a literary device somewhere before! 

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